From tumbling air conditioners to defective sidewalk grates to deli salad-bar tuna, there’s a random death potentially waiting around every corner in New York City.
Who could blame locals for having a morbid curiosity about some of the more unusual ways to bite it? For those people, there’s “And Then You’re Dead,” a scientific investigation into novel ways to die by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty.
The authors explore what would happen if you were eaten by a shark or if you fell into a black hole, but some of the deadly scenarios explored in the book speak to specific New York-centric anxieties — such as elevator horror stories.
Imagine you’re in an elevator near the top of a Midtown skyscraper. The car lurches. A cable snaps. And the metal box goes screaming down the shaft for 60 stories.
Certain death, right?
Believe it or not, you’d have a pretty good chance of survival. Most elevators today have safety brakes that stop them, making a free fall unlikely. But if it did happen, you probably wouldn’t die a “horrible, flattened death,” as the authors write.
Assuming the elevator fits snugly in the shaft, as it should, the air beneath the car couldn’t escape the abyss, creating an air cushion that would slow your descent.
And the urban legend that claims you can save yourself by jumping at the exact moment the car hits the bottom? Hogwash. You’d only slow yourself by about a mile per hour, and when you did hit the ground, the force would make “your organs . . . push their way through your body.”
Best practice if you’re trapped in a plunging elevator is to get low by lying flat on the floor, distributing your body weight. In 1945, a wayward plane slammed into the Empire State Building, damaging an elevator. Its operator, Betty Lou Oliver, dropped 75 stories while sitting in the car’s corner and lived, suffering only broken bones.
Let’s say you wanted to take an intentional plunge, as folks did back in the early 1900s, when going over Niagara Falls in a barrel was a popular stunt. The worst outcome would obviously be hitting the rocks below. Humans can survive a fall of up to 40 feet, according to NASA, but dropping 180 feet — the height of the falls — at 70 miles per hour onto a solid surface would not be good.
Your best bet is to fall into the water.
Smacking into still water would be similar to hitting concrete, and your ribs would shatter — spearing your organs — and your skull would be crushed. But the water beneath Niagara is agitated, making it more airy and able to slightly cushion a fall.
But even if you survived, you might get trapped behind the falls — which is what happened to a daredevil in 1930. His barrel got ensnared by the powerful current and couldn’t be retrieved for 16 hours. The guy suffocated.
But what if you were to end up trapped in another body of water — say, the North Atlantic a day after your cruise ship set sail from the terminal at Pier 88?
If you weren’t rescued within an hour and a half, tops, you’d probably freeze to death just like the victims of the Titanic did. The water is around 28 degrees and would chill your body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature. Shortly after toppling into the drink, you’d develop a massive headache, similar to one you get from scarfing ice cream too fast, as your body tried to keep your brain from freezing by sending a rush of blood.
You’d begin hyperventilating and shivering uncontrollably, rendering your limbs virtually useless. Your body would divert blood to your vital organs and away from your extremities. Your arms and legs would go numb after 15 minutes, leaving you to drown. With a flotation device, you could last a bit longer.
But your body temperature would slowly drop, and after 30 to 60 minutes (depending basically on how much insulating fat you have), your body temperature would tumble to 90 degrees and you’d fall unconscious. After 45 to 90 minutes, your body temp would hit 77 degrees and you’d go into cardiac arrest.
It’s enough to make you stay on dry land.
But should the apocalypse hit and you’re forced to subsist on food from your local bodega, pray there are some stray cans of green beans on the shelves.
Potato chips and Twinkies might fill you up, but they have virtually no vitamins, leaving you open to diseases, including scurvy. Your gums would begin bleeding after about 30 days, your skin would develop open sores and one month later, you’d bleed to death.
New York — it’s a helluva town.
What would happen to you if you were walking by the Empire State Building and struck by an object that had been tossed off the top?
Instead of boring into your head like a bullet, the coin would bounce off with little more than a light sting. A penny has a terminal velocity of just 25 miles per hour, and the coin would tumble as it fell, slowing it. You’d easily live.
Shockingly, this wouldn’t likely kill you either. The ball would strike your poor head at about 95 miles per hour — the speed of a major league fastball — leaving you with a nasty but survivable concussion.
Almost certain death. Because of its rodlike shape, a pen would probably pierce your skull with an arrow and kill you.
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